Gay blessing by US bishop defies advice from church

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The Independent Online

The Archbishop of Canterbury's office has described as "extraordinary" a decision by the Bishop of Washington to carry out a "blessing" service involving a gay priest and his partner of 12 years.

The Archbishop of Canterbury's office has described as "extraordinary" a decision by the Bishop of Washington to carry out a "blessing" service involving a gay priest and his partner of 12 years.

The blessing service went ahead despite a request from Dr Rowan Williams to liberal Anglican provinces to refrain from gay blessings and ordinations until the Lambeth Commission, set up last October, reports on homosexuality and the church later this year.

More than 100 people witnessed the Bishop of Washington DC, the Reverend John Chane, bless the union of Father Michael Hopkins, 43, and his partner, John Clinton Bradley, 44, at a service at Father Hopkins's church in Maryland on June 12.

Lambeth Palace was reported as saying: "Given the stage at which the commission working with Archbishop [Robin] Eames has now reached, it is extraordinary that such a development has occurred."

A Church of England source confirmed last night that the blessing was a matter of concern ahead of the findings of the Eames Commission, which is trying to find a way to solve the crisis in the church over differing views on homosexuality. The Commission is due to report in September.

The Church was plunged into crisis last year by the ordination of the openly gay Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire last year and by the decision of the New Westminster Diocese in Canada to authorise a rite for same-sex blesssings. The Canadian Church's General Synod has decided not to authorise same-sex blessings this summer out of respect for the Eames's Commission's work.

The Bishop of Washington's blessing service has become a subject of an attack in today's Church of England newspaper, the voice of the Church's evangelical wing, which said that the blessing threatened to "render the work of the Eames Commission futile".

The blessing service also created controversy in the US with Cynthia Brust, a spokeswoman for the conservative episcopal churches' group the American Anglican Council, telling The Washington Post she was dismayed at Bishop Chane's decision. "The arrogance of revisionist bishops knows no bounds," she said.

She said because the Lambeth Commission had "asked for restraint during the period of [its] work, we see this as showing complete disregard for that request, which shows a deplorable lack of respect," Brust added. "We have a deep concern that they are putting the homosexual agenda before any hope of unity, and we find that absolutely appalling."

Before the ceremony, Father Hopkins said: "What we're doing is a fairly conservative and traditional thing. We're asking to live in accountability to the church in our relationship."

"I just ask them [conservative church people] to find a place in their hearts for us to live together in the church with our differences."

A spokesman for Bishop Chane denied that the Bishop was out to make a political point, saying he presided over the ceremony out of friendship and admiration for his priest.

The bishop, who said the words of benediction at Ronald Reagan's funeral service this month, is known as a supporter of gay rights in the church and until last year was President of Integrity, the US equivalent of the British Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement.